After last year's all-virtual event, the Content Marketing Institute returned in style with Content Marketing World 2021. The event hosted over 100 sessions featuring some of the brightest minds in content marketing discussing the latest industry trends.
Included in the stellar cast of panelists was Skyword's own CEO Andrew Wheeler, who led a break-out session focused on freelancers, flexibility, and the future of work, with the goal of uncovering how great brands are scaling their marketing operations in 2021 and beyond. For those unable to attend the session at this year's CMWorld: We have you covered.
Here are four key insights from Andrew's presentation that will help you plan a bright future for your brand marketing.
Build a Content Ecosystem
The content marketing landscape is rapidly evolving, more so than ever before. Demand for digital content across the organization has skyrocketed, thanks to COVID-19, and content teams are being challenged to keep up. On top of that, digital advertising is dying, putting more emphasis on owned content. Plus, people are flooding the freelance market, with more than 2 million workers joining the freelance economy in 2020 alone.
How can brands keep up with all these changes? Andrew believes a transformation is needed in marketing. In order to truly scale content operations, everything needs to be reimagined, from the operational structure of the marketing team to the freelance relationship. And the first step on this journey is taking a new approach to planning and organizing content.
Skyword's framework for organizing content is known as The Content Ecosystem Model. The goal of this model is to create a strategic network of assets that build market momentum and support the purchasing journey at scale.
As part of this model, you will need to identify audience-centric topic pillars that you want to own as a brand. Then reinforce your authority in those topics with content across streams that tie back to your pillars. By covering all aspects of your topic pillars (and the subtopics holding them up), you can build a content ecosystem that is strong, focused, purpose-driven, and backed by subject matter authority.
This approach is all about depth. Rather than creating one-off pieces of content or many assets across a spectrum of topics, you can drill down into specific areas. This will demonstrate your brand's expertise and create a unified path for your customers across brand touchpoints.
Transform Your Operational Structure
Building a stable, supportive content ecosystem is only one piece of this transformation puzzle. The traditional hierarchical structure of the marketing organization needs an update to keep pace with the modern world. If you want to scale your marketing operations, you'll need to take a close look at how you're structuring your people.
Typically, content ideation and creation are scattered across business units. For example, the marketing team may get requests from several lines of business or different product teams all at once to create new assets. Each department has to compete for those marketing resources, including budget, and sometimes, they may rely on outside agencies to pitch in here and there to get all the work done.
Unfortunately, without a singular framework guiding everything, this approach usually results in a patchwork of creation models and a disparity of quality. To avoid this scenario, many leading brands are shifting to a people structure that puts a content team at the center of creation.
This central content team has a vision of the bigger picture, and they are able to coordinate individuals or small teams to deliver content across the entire organization without losing sight of that vision. In this model, content planning, coordination, and measurement are all centralized, but content is activated by different teams across the business.
Embrace a New Style of Work
Putting your content team at the center of all content creation and coordination may sound like you need to hire a bunch of new people, but that's not the case -- instead, Andrew suggests turning to what he calls a "blended" team model.
Relying purely on creating all content in-house just isn't scalable, and neither is outsourcing everything. A blended team, however, has the flexibility to scale up or down as needed while controlling the brand message.
As previously mentioned, the freelance market is growing faster than ever, which means there's plenty of great talent out there willing to help brands create whatever they need. And according to 2021 Skyword research, 73 percent of brands who currently leverage freelance creators plan to rely on them more over the next one to two years. That's the real crux of blended teaming: it leans on freelancers as an extension of marketing operations.
In this new style of work, freelance creators liaise with internal brand quality managers, who can ensure that all content is consistent in terms of quality, style, and messaging. It also enables the organization to identify exactly who's right for certain jobs -- with a wider freelance network, you can access a larger variety of experts and more diverse content creators, and you can level up your bandwidth without adding headcount.
Reimagine the Freelance Relationship
All that said, shifting to a blended workforce will require brands to evolve their freelance relationships. In the past, marketing wouldn't reach out to freelance creators until their plates were completely full and overflowing, and the idea was that freelancers were there to fill the gaps and do the work no one else had time to do.
At Skyword, we believe in building long-term partnerships with freelancers. These partnerships should be symbiotic. Instead of holding freelancers at arm's length, we make a point to close the knowledge gap between brand strategy and messaging and external topic expertise. We identify the strengths of our internal team members and our freelancers, and when we need a job to be done, we select the person with the right strengths to tackle it.
This approach extends your capabilities and turns your freelancers into a valuable renewable resource for content creation. Like anything else, though, it takes work to manage your freelance network in this way, and you'll need a dedicated point person or team to communicate with existing freelancers and build a robust onboarding plan for new ones.
Andrew's session at this year's CMWorld was eye-opening, to say the least. Weaving together several big ideas that are working for brands, he explained how the content marketing landscape is and will continue to evolve, especially as the ongoing effects of the pandemic impact businesses in every vertical. To keep up, marketing operations need to change, and these key insights can play a major role in helping you do exactly that.
Stay tuned on our blog, The Content Standard, for more learnings coming out of CMWorld 2021 -- we've got more coverage on the way, and we're excited to share all the top lessons from the industry's leaders! And if you'd like to read regular content marketing insights straight from Skyword's CEO, sign up for Andrew's monthly newsletter, Content & Context.